The following is from a presentation I gave back in the winter of 2001/2. This was part of a series I participated in as a teacher and presenter on Mindbody healing, Miracles, Sainthood, and Intercessory Prayer, the main topic for this final essay. At the time I was still a chemistry professor, now in my 14th year, just completed a graduate degree program in medical geography, and was enrolled for about a year in the MPH Health Education/Health Promotion program, all at Portland State University.
The Mindbody phenomena is reviewed at a number of other places at this site. Parts of the study of miracles, the psychology of a individual who lives a life worthy of this recognition, and the requirements of canonization may be found in most of the previous writings in this section about Mahican sachem Wasamapa or Tschoop (pronounced like the Bible name Job with a long O sound and soft “T’ sound in the beginning of the ‘sch’).
Different Interpretations of Prayer
Prayer may be differentiated in several ways. According to Friedrich Heiler, a German theologian, “[p]rayer is not man’s work, or discovery or achievement, but God’s work in man” (Heiler, 1932, iv) As a chief means by which “the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us (Rom. 8. 26),” Heiler recognized prayer for its interdenominational character and its ability to play an important role in physical, mental and spiritual growth processes. This is a feature of many of the ritualistic practices of religion which have underlying spiritual components enabling them to be transferred from one culture to the next.
Heiler’s multicultural, multidenominational review of prayer led him to define five major forms of prayer:
- personal, and
Each of these forms consisted of specific individual and cultural practices, the outcomes of which were defined either by a personal or a social purpose for the prayer. Native American rituals were used as examples of “primitive” or “tribal” prayer by Heiler, in which thanks is given to the Creator before a hunt or for taking the life of an animal for food. Heiler’s description of “Ritual” prayers defined them as regular activities in which individuals and groups are engage in order to reaffirm their social- or cultural belief system. The purpose of this form of prayer is to strengthen the community, especially its beliefs and its social support systems. The third form of prayer according to Heiler, “mystical prayer”, is much like a meditative state. It serves to quiet the mind allowing the person to make a personal connection with the Higher Power, Creator, or God. The last two forms of prayer, personal and public prayers, are used to define an individual or a unique group for whom the prayer was initially written and intended. These prayers are provided along with public prayers in many of the communal prayer settings that make use of these forms of prayer, This actions serves to more completely define the much broader social issues for which prayers are used and intended.
Another popular writer on prayers, Episcopalean writer Margaret Guenther, differentiated prayers based on their cause and purpose. She identified prayers of
- petition, and
Adoration and thanksgiving prayers were prayers of acknowledgement. Prayers of confession served to assist individuals in returning to a state of balance. With the centering prayer, the individual engaged in the ritual with hopes reaching a state of “stillness,” in order to gain insight into ‘life’, ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning.’ As an example, there is a form of prayer used to search for the answers to particular questions a person has. In the deepest forms of such prayers, these questions are extremely personal and often include questions about the reason for existence or queries into one’s present state of being. Guenther’s idea of a petition prayer is one in which the individual is praying for guidance and intervention, for example for a particular disease that has just been diagnosed or a prayer used during one’s stay in a hospital bed. The final prayer according to Guenther, Intercession prayer, is when a group of individuals pray for another individual. This is often performed in the form of a request for a specific form for guidance regarding a health condition or a state of being, and is the kind of prayer often performed regardless of the individual’s knowledge or conscious awareness about whether or not the prayer is taking place (Guenther 1989).
Yet another classification system for prayers was drawn up by Christian theologian Bridget Meehan, who provided an even more detailed classification system for prayers centered on their purpose. Those prayers which are most directly related to modern concepts in healing include prayers which were defined by Meehan as:
- Healing of Memories,
- Centering (akin to the mystical meditation experience),
- Scripture (reliance on Saints and well-defined rituals),
- Fantasy (through the use of highly imaginative imagery),
- Relaxation, and
- personal and family or socially-directed Healing Affirmations (Meehan 1991).
An important addition to the definition of the prayer in general, as proposed by Meehan, is the added interpretation of journal-writing as a form of prayer, which she referred to as a beneficial ritualistic activity, one in which the writer is taking the initial step needed to form a communication with God. According to Meehan, the results of this journal writings may themselves be very much identical to those produced through more traditional methods of prayer. This she argues takes place because the journal-writing experience serves a purpose similar to and in conjunction with the other more common forms of prayer activity, such as coming to grips with a personal dilemma, state of mind or being, or uncertainty about the future.
Quaker author Richard J. Foster produced a still broader classification of prayer in which the categories were defined as:
- the forsaken (improving life),
- examen (as an expression of universal unconditional love),
- formation (personal development),
- covenance (emotional commitment),
- sacrament (ritualistic liturgy),
- contemplation (centered on God’s presence),
- petitioning (request for assistance),
- intercession (requesting help for another),
- suffering, and
- authority (healing of Earth) (Foster 1992).
Current alternative medicine writers base many of their definitions of prayer on Foster’s writings (Targ 1997, Levin 1996, Dossey 1993, 1996, Horrigan 1999). In terms of the popular culture ideology developed regarding the value of prayer as a medicinal or health-linked form of human behavior, both Dossey’s and Foster’s definitions of prayer best fit the value of this human behavior as a medicine. In fairly recent and modern times, members of the medical profession devoted to religion and healing either take the traditional route defined by their primary religious writings, and/or the choose to follow Larry Dossey’s interpretations about prayer and healing, The most important form of prayer in this definition of the healing prayer, the form opposing Foster’s intercession prayer, the intercessory prayer, is typically the form of prayer engaged in by others as part of a healing practice or process (Cherry 1999). The intercessory prayer reminds us of Centering and Healing Affirmations prayers, performed in a more ad lib fashion than normally associated with Affirmation prayers. Parts of the intercessory prayer related to Guenther’s version of intercession and centering prayers, as well as to certain components associated with Heiler’s mystical, personal and public prayers, each of which have their own practices that remind us of both self-guided and unrequested socially-guided healing activities.
Some of the more commonly accepted teachings of prayer and medicine appear in Dossey’s Healing Words. As noted by Dossey, his recommendations for performing the most correct prayerform were derived from Foster’s writings (Foster 1992, Dossey 1993). The steps he recommends the person performing the prayer engage in, or the ‘requirements’ for this form of prayer, were defined by Holl (1998), and consist of four components: the Absolute/Universe/Creator/God; the individual; the feeling of love/connectedness; and the process by which this activity results in the engagement of one’s Self with that Absolute (the inner and/or outer connection).
When we perform a prayer and/or try to assign meaning to both the prayer and whatever results are achieved from this prayer (even if they are none), it is important to recognize that different social and cultural settings for the prayer activity have different personal and group meaning attached to them. These meanings or purposes are derived from the inner most psyche of the people engaged in these practices, which is pretty much dependent and linked to both their experiences and their belief. To the individual in need of the prayer due to a medical condition, the value and purpose of the prayer is what he/she makes of it. Likewise, the value of the social setting in which this prayer activity takes place also helps to assign meaning to this practice. To the surround people or group as a whole, the sum of the meanings of each individual’s take on the prayer is what helps the people and prayer along its natural way. It helps to understand the reasons and purpose for the prayer before such an activity begins. But it also helps to keep in mind the value of the centering prayers also applied to these uses. The intercessory prayer and the centering prayer both have value for use as healing tools according to the above reviewed authors.
Prayer Types in Health
Most of the contemporary writings about prayers as a healing activity differentiate these healing practices into the following large categories.
Prayer by Petition typically has a specific health related goal in mind and is performed by individuals, usually in silence and for themselves. Intercessory prayer is performed by one or more people and is intended to serve another individual who is ill. Intercessory practices are group practices which may be performed with or without the ill person knowledgeable or aware of this intervention process. Whereas petition prayer involves conscious thought on behalf of the individual in need of remediation, intercessory prayer involves a level of consciousness of other people. Some the more recent studies of prayer focus on people who are unaware of the intercessory prayer process he/she may be a part of and the influences of intercessory prayer on their state of being.
Ritual prayer involves the prayer process in which the individual adheres to a specific protocol and definition of terms and thoughts employed. Such prayers support the system the individual is engaged in and applies more meaning to the religion itself and its other ritual practices.
Journalist Prayer involves the regular use of a journal to keep notes about yourself, your reaction to your present state, and your related hopes, wishes and desires. Such notes may include dream recollection, reflection of the day’s events and their meaning, unique experiences with possible symbolism attached to them, metaphysical suspicions (i.e. suspected angel experiences), and numerous other physical activities and event to which possible metaphysical meanings may be attached. Notes related directly to prayer which may be included in this include verbalization of individual wants and needs or written affirmations meant to serve as well as petitions.
One of the more commonly noted examples of this ritual practice is keeping a journal in which you describe your dreams. By engaging in such an interpretative practice, you transform the dream (the message sent to your conscious mind from whatever source and by whatever means) into a request for the knowledge about its meaning as you pen your writing, afterwhich, the answer to this question may come to you as a reply to your “prayer” of request posed in written form. By keeping a journal (another private activity), one strengthens his/her traditional prayer activities, assigns meaning to whatever events may be taking place in relation to the illness, and define the full meaning for the illness and what cure might exist for it.
Meditative or Mystical Prayer is best described as developing a quietness within. Such a process enables new thoughts or communications with a higher power or another source of wisdom to produce the results. Some groups relate this process to becoming more in tune with one’s inner self. Others view it as the means to connect with the Creator (God or YHWH), or some higher knowledge source (the Jungians’ “Cosmic Consciousness” the Mason’s “Universal Light, or the New Thought movement notion of “Divine Power.”)
Intercessory Prayer is when a group of people pray for another individual. Two types of Intercessory Prayer may be noted.
Local Intercessory Prayer is when the prayer group carries out their activity in the presence of the individual they are praying for. The person being prayed for may or may not be awake and alert to the prayer activity.
Non-Local Intercessory Prayer involves groups either knowingly or unknowingly praying for another person, typically someone from a place well detached from that group’s location both visibly and audibly.
Assigning a Cause to Prayer-induced Cures
One way to assign cause to a prayer cure is to simply look at the various practices linked to prayer activities in comparison to practices performed by other healing professions, ranging from shamanism, to neurosurgery, to heart attack recovery. Healing through prayer can be argued to be a healing practice in which a variety of operational behaviors take place much like similar events occur whenever regular medical protocols are employed. These ritualistic practices, of either medicine or religion, are what draw people close together to form the source of the activity needed to improve the outcome of the patients physical and mental state. Be the recipient of this practice a patient on his/her way to a doctor’s visit or a church member seated seated in a pew waiting for an ambulance to arrive, the activities each of the surrounding people engage in, are capable of having a major impact on how the person reacts to his/her situation, cause physical and emotional stresses to begin to effect the body, and based on the relative amounts of each, help determine what the ultimate outcome of a case might be.
In the simplest sense, a whole array of visualizations occur in this setting. These “images’ or concepts borne in the individual’s mind help to further define in ritual form the possible outcomes of such behaviors or practices. These concepts change the person’s body and mindset, and through whatever means physicians or metaphysicians like to lay claim to, these concepts can sometimes lead to important “healing activities.” Therefore, whatever interpersonal activities are engaged in within the medical setting become arguable as capable, be they produce as a result of medicine or religion. In terms of degree of importance and any positive (healing) effect they might have on the visitor, such outcomes are best determined by enabling these two methods of healing to merge, not be dissociated from each other. In other words, be a given healing event one of regular medicine or of religious medicine, the outcome of simply engaging oneself in this communication process might in itself initiate an important part of the healing response within the individual seeking help that is otherwise unattainable. It can be argued at this point that the effectiveness of medicine and religion on healing are identical to some extent, or comparable in value and worth to the individual. Both are behaviors which require proper bonding to take place between the two participants, in order for the next stage in the recovery process to take place. Whether or not much needed and favorable results are produced, may or may not be determined by either of these practices. Of course it helps the physical body to provide the most important physical skills available to help it along an otherwise lengthy and time-consuming healing process, that may have less likelihood or reaching the final state of being desired. Unless the patient is a hardcore believer in miracles, he/she is not going to wait for an amputated leg to find its way back onto the body to initiate its healing activities. Some improvements still require man’s intervention to take place in order for the true “miracle work” to begin.,
Sociologists and religious advocates argue that due to this importance assigned to both medicine and religion when dealing with the ailing patron, religious activities are very beneficial to ill patients and must be included in all such activities. Some may even argue that in some cases, prayers or religious intervention works even better on patients than regular medical activities. The major reason for this belief is that social interactions often favor in the former, whereas professional interactions favor the latter. In the end, it just may be that the absolute differences in numbers linked to each argument or claim will make the difference. Except when obligation and/or impersonal professional commitment are involved, the purpose of medicine versus religion often become minimized. Practitioners of regular medicine minimize the purpose and power of the other healer and vice versa. At the patient (“cure recipient”) level, these behavioral interpretations of a healing activity build upon internalized scientific or spiritual reasons considered important to the healing response. To the regular medical leader, the internal spirituality of a patient in a regular health care setting is important because it focuses on the healer’s concerns (the diagnosis) and lacks expression of the patient’s concerns (the underlying problems or causes attached to the ailment). To the socially-defined religious or spiritual leader, such a setting is capable of exerting some of the influence that is needed for healing to take place, but only if their own traditional teachings become part of this health care experience. Until an individual engages in physical healing practices, be they behavior-related (in churches) or prescribed and required (the doctor’s offices), one who is in need of healing may tend to engage in a better healing response in a combined religious-medical social setting than in the typical medical setting devoid of spirituality, both socially and culturally.
Once in the clinic or hospital, a variety of physical events take place which serve to modify the patients state of being. For the most part, these events take place physically and mentally. The practice of medicine itself, even in cases in which it is of limited value (i.e. an incurable disease), becomes more effective when a mentally-defined acceptance of biomedical protocols occurs, regardless of their efficacy of the physical skills engaged in by the doctor as a part of this process. This method of cure—ritual-placebo cure—has a long history of exploration by members of the medical field. After all, the simple mention of biomedical activities about to take place for the patient are known to induce an accepting emotional response by the patient, and in other cases a highly stressful response.
For this reason it can be argued that the doctor’s ritual of performing a healing activity may often exert no additional healing power other than to induce some physical and physiological influences. Such an argument is true even for cases in which symptomatology is impacted, but not the underlying direct cause for the disease. As noted by many physicians, this healing and cure may be initiated due primarily to the body’s own physical repair mechanisms, a process for which metaphysicians have a better understanding, although not in a purely scientific sense. They know this event more for the spiritual healing experience it becomes.
What About the Power of Prayer to Create Miracles?
A miracle is an event which could not normally ensue within a given setting (Dossey 1998). The rules for judging miracles appear in several religious writings, and stem from an eighteenth century establishment of rules for defining such events. In regard to modern medicine, the acceptance of miraculous healing has an interesting history filled with repeated changes in the views toward such cures by physicians, and the creation of numerous explanations consistent with the contemporary belief systems. A common theme in professional arguments against the possibility of a miracle argues that whatever changes happen occur due to the human body’s inherent healing potentials. An offshoot of this interpretation of the miracle cure is the supposition that natural forces have a way of accomplishing these healings. This particular argument is much like the contemporary medical arguments for unexplained cures. It makes use of contemporary knowledge of the body based on scientifically-documented physiological and biochemical activities. Otherwise, an adequate biomedical explanation might not exist. In essence, these arguments focus on the assumption that God does not exist as traditionally defined, but instead in an imaginative sense. This way, the events responsible for the cure may be argued as a result of natural laws which exist independent of any Creator or spirit responsible for this existence.
Another interpretation for unexplainable cures and miracles makes use of the acceptance of two worlds or entities—dualism—with two types of law. Since an important part of this dualistic theory is that both worlds act independently of each other, but at times overlap and intertwine to become more monistic in nature, the possibility for miracle does exist in this sort of philosophical argument. This argument relates to the clinical setting in the physical world in that its suggests that although an individual survives based on perceptions of the physical world, he/she is quite capable of interacting with this other world to cause the cure. When this view is interpreted in an energetic sense, one can perceive valid explanations for supernatural phenomena, even phenomena in which a healer induces a cure unexplainable by natural law (precedents of the quantum theory).
If this argument for a miracle is interpreted in a purely supernatural and theological sense, this “energy” is likened to, or considered part of, God or the Creator. This suggests that the individuals doing the healing and those who are being healed are in a separate sphere of existence from the Creator, with the Creator either:
1) initiating a cure through a healer or healing-related event (shamans, human spiritual messengers, synchronicities, etc.) or
2) making direct contact spiritually with the individual, without need for intervention by a healer (i.e. direct from God through physical change, dreams, and synchronicities; or from Jesus, Saints, Angels, etc.).
In regard to mystical prayer, it may be the mystical experience which opens the individual to incoming messages. Unlike the more quiet meditative session already accepted by biomedicine, this practice adds an additional benefit to the healing process: the open meditative mind is actively awaiting an answer, a mental state which may result in affirmations, revelations, and other forms of important knowledge about the ailment one may not receive otherwise. Therefore, the simple inclusion of mystical prayer behaviors can serve a purpose extending beyond the values of simple meditation. Simple meditation may be interpreted as a mentally- or cognitively passive healing activity, whereas one’s engagement in mysticism offers a more mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically-driven approach to initiating the healing process (i.e. certain Sufiism and Shamanic activities).
Prayer in the Clinical Setting
A number of medical experts support the idea of introducing prayer into medical clinic and hospital settings as a regular treatment option for the patient to make use of or politely refuse (Joyce and Weldon 1965, Byrd 1988, 1997, Feraro and Albrecht-Jensen 1991, O’Laoire 1997, Sicher, Moore and Smith 1998, Harris, Gowda, Kolb, et al. 1999, King and Thomas 1999). Several more theologically-based arguments are also available for supporting the addition of prayer to healing practices, especially practices based upon Christian philosophy (Schecter 1988, Katter 1993, Magaletta and Duckio 1996, McGarry 1996, McGuire 1996, Dickens 1999, O’Malthuna 1998, 1999) or Judaic philosophy (Kestenbaum 1997, Hirsch 1997). A considerable amount of polarity exists however in the acceptance of activity as a part of regular medical practice (Rose 1971, Benor 1993, Raso 1997, Thomson 1997, Roberts, Hall and Sargent 1997, Swan 1998, Dossey 1995, 1999). Prayer need not be a standard protocol in medicine, but due to the fact that those most believing in this form of healing are most likely regularly engaging it, even in the clinical and hospital setting, with friends and allies doing the same outside the health care setting (intercessory prayer), it is probably “best practice” to allow some sort of clinical involvement to take place with this activity. Exclusionary behavior is not beneficial in terms of support-based care philosophies. Patients do in fact do better when they have well defined forms of support from family and friends.
Since personally-directed mystical prayer is an individualistic, spiritual behavior, it can take place in any medical setting, and does not require any active decision making process on behalf of health care providers. This is not always the case for intercessory prayer, one of the most popular topics in religion and healing in recent years. The decision to engage in intercessory prayer may be made by the sick person and his/her friends, and performed with or without the doctor’s knowledge of its practice. It may also be engaged in by supporters without that individual’s knowledge or expectations attached to such an activity. However, should a doctor prescribe intercessory prayer? A family’s personal doctor may in fact wish to do this, and should not be prevented from engaging in such an activity.
Rather than prescribe such a healing practice to a patient, the physician should simply note that healing prayer has to be allowed, and at best, recommended to the patient by the physician. Most importantly, it shouldn’t be prohibited, except when the life of the intercessors or the patients themselves may be put at risk due to any related physical interactions.
It is even more important for physicians/healers to understand and accept that the question posed about whether or not intercessory prayer works is a different issue, which is arguably identical to what regular healers ask about therapeutics: should I use this drug/treatment modality on the patient or an other? Do I think (believe) this drug will actually work? which of the various modalities presented to me in medical school will actually work better? A recent National Institutes of Health report was an effort to define the most appropriate protocols for dealing with this issue (Achterberg, Dossey, Gordon, Hegedus, Herrmann, and Nelson, 1992).
The following is a partial summation of the recommendations mentioned in the writings of theologians, psychologists and medical professionals reviewed for this study:
Worship the Body as a Temple. A number of spiritual and religious writings consider this as an interpretation of Biblical and Buddhist writings, although it most likely has numerous multicultural origins. A physically-focused interpretation of this belief deals with popular well-being issues and its relations to the healthy spirit, mind and body state (Ader, Felton and Cohen 1991, Hafen, Karren, Frandsen, and Smith 1996).
Engage in Journal-keeping activities. In general, “Journal Prayer” has been viewed an extension of other forms of prayer (Kelsey 1980, Virtue 1998). Journalism is thus an important healing process both psychologically as well as spiritually. With journalism, entry of thoughts and impressions may themselves initiate and important internally focused healing process. Biomedical physicians might argue that journalism also works due to goal-setting, or due to the changes such an activity induces both psychosomatically and psychoneuroimunologically.
Use Dream Imagery Interpretation. A theological interpretation of journal writing is that it works by initiating or facilitating one’s communication with God or Creator (Kelsey 1974, Vanek 1992). Comparable arguments, although based on different philosophies and ideologies, state that this activity helps one develop his/her sense of mindfulness—the knowledge of Self as part of some universal non-local field or quantum, or engaging the “Absolute” in the healing process (Achterberg 1985).
Engage in Regular Prayer. By engaging in prayer and/or other mystical activities (Jewish and Sufi rituals), important benefits may result, which in the least may be due simply to the benefits of “imagination,” positive thinking, and meditation (Kelsey 1976, Parrinder 1995). There are however important spiritual and religious consequences of such an activity which simple meditation may not produce as readily. Since the mystical experience is often very personal, the cause and effect of the mystical experience will differ greatly from one individual to the next. This behavior contrasts with negative thinking, not to mention engaging inappropriate petition prayer, which has been noted by some medical religious writers to “backfire” (Dossey 1997).
Develop Long Term Interpersonal and Social Relations. The psychosocial process has numerous well-documented healing effects. The simplest of these benefits involve the much healthier personal behaviors often attached to such a lifestyle (Koenig 1994, 1997). Long term interpersonal relationships have been show to be of considerable benefit, especially during the later years (Abel 1998; Seeber 1990). Social interaction is an important part of the prayer activity or process in that it plays an important psychological role in the healing process, as well increases the likelihood that a disease intervention may occur by way of intercessory prayer.
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